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Dangerous Old Women

Posted By Lynda Schneekloth, Wednesday, October 19, 2016

At EDRA45NewOrleans, 2014 Career Award recipient Lynda Schneekloth gave a powerful acceptance speech with a charge to our community. A modified version of this speech is below.

I am delighted to be receiving the EDRA Career Award for 2014 with two other ‘dangerous old women’ – Sue Weidemann and Robert Feldman. Yes, old, you can’t get a career award if you haven’t lived long enough to have a career! And ‘dangerous’? I’ll get back to that in a minute.

I stand here for so many others with whom I have worked to support, challenge, mentor and participate in the field of human environmental relations in general and at EDRA specifically – too many, frankly, to be named individually. No one has a career without the support of many others and I am thankful to all of you, and especially to the Board of EDRA for this award.


My EDRA career began early as a child growing up on the NW Branch of the Anacostia River. Well, we called it “the creek” and I had no idea what a career was. I grew up in a bevy of kids, I was one of five and my three cousins lived upstairs. We engaged in endless placemaking along the creek and in the woods – always constructing, moving, making and inhabiting the places we found or made. This idyllic childhood came to an end as a result of the rapid post war suburbanization that, among other things, had increased the flooding of nearby neighborhoods. So the Army Corp of Engineers arrived and ‘fixed’ the creek -- and thereby destroyed the entire ecosystem, the woods, and even Hernando’s Hideway, our favorite retreat. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, I only knew that my heart was broken. I learned early about placemaking and unmaking, two concepts that continued to occupy my scholarship and practice over many years.

The ‘fixing’ of the creek was not the act of evil people, but a considered act of protection within the frame of the dominant paradigm that I’ll call the Story of the People, the imagination of how life should be lived in the 20th century. Neither I, nor others yet understood the meaning and consequence held in the words of Paul Shepard when he said: “The trouble with the eagerness to make a world is that, because the world is already made, what is there must first be destroyed.

The destruction of creeks like the NW Branch of the Anacostia River, similar to activities across the globe in the 20th and early 21st century, is still considered the Story of the People. This is the belief in human progress and power, and of overcoming nature to accommodate the needs of one species – us.

But let me step back to the ‘dangerous old women’ -- the term I used to describe the three Career Award recipients today. You are all familiar with the archetype of the old woman – the one who sees things deeply, who goes where she wants to go, and says what she wants to say, just as I am doing right now. But why dangerous? Clarissa Pinkola Estes reminds us of the older meaning of the word, danger, which is to protect and to hold.

If you stand in someone’s ‘danger,’ it means you are under their protection, within the realm of their care. EDRA has stood in the danger of many ‘elders’ –folks like Henry Sanoff, Leanne Rivlin, Bob Bechtel, Mike Brill, John Archea, Robert Shibley, Robin Moore, Irv Altman, Gary Moore, Mike Murtha – so many I can’t name them. These are the folks who carried what were once marginal areas of inquiry across many fields into legitimate academic disciplines and important professional practices. Organizations like EDRA only exists because people take care of them—they are fragile and we must sing them into existence with each generation.

In return, EDRA has held many individuals, groups and communities in its danger. We have been instrumental in generating knowledge about, and improving, the lives and places of children, of the elderly, of the imprisoned populations, workers, of people in public space, of those in need of more universal design and so on. The EDRA Proceedings are a literal accounting of our collective work on behalf of those needing a voice.

But I come back to a question that always jumps into my mind: As an organization focused on the relationships of people and places, what have we left out? What else needs to be held in our danger? Someone recently asked my grandson what his favorite planet was. He said, “Earth.” It’s my favorite planet too; it is our shared home. I am suggesting that EDRA and each of us might bring the Earth itself into our danger, for we, as a species, have enjoyed its gifts for eons to the point where we have become, it seems, a very successful species.

But then I am reminded of a comment by the biologist Lynn Margulis who has said that all successful species commit suicide. They overpopulate, use up all their resources and foul their nest, and they and their habitat are destroyed. On the other hand, we are Homo sapiens – the wise ones. As Brian Swimme and many have said, we are the universe made aware of itself, aware of the beauty, the patterns, and the power of life. Today we know that we are literally made of stardust and are kin to every living being on this earth.

Fifty years ago, Teilhard de Chardin predicted that “[T]he day is not far when humanity will realize that biologically it is faced with a choice between suicide and adoration.”

We, you and I, have lived as privileged people on this earth, we have been given sustenance and excesses of material well-being, and we have been fortunate to have rewarding work as academics and professionals who strive to improve the lives of all people and many places. What’s left out of our concern? What else needs to stand in EDRA’s danger? This is the question I leave with you as one of the dangerous old women being honored today.

I thank all of you for this award. I am the recipient of unmistakable grace.

Paul Shepard in Roszak, Gomes and Kanner (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco 1995, p. 32.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/734740.The_Dangerous_Old_Woman
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1957), The Divine Milieu, New York: Harper & Row Publishers: pp. 40-41.
Lynn Margulis from Charles C. Mann, “State of the Species: Does success spell doom for Homo sapiens?” Orion Magazine, November/December 2012.
Brian Swimme (1984), The Universe is a Green Dragon. Rochester, VT. Bear & Company.

Tags:  Professor Emerita  School of Architecture and Planning  University at Buffalo / SUNY 

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